Monday, June 29, 2015

Keep Calm and Carry On

Keep Calm and Carry On
In 1939, the British government developed a campaign to reassure frightened and anxious citizens in the face of impending German blitzkrieg bombardments of the United Kingdom as World War II began to intensify. Over 2.5 million copies of a bright red poster were printed up, emblazoned with the crown of King George VI overtop the simple words, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” Most of those posters were never seen. They were recycled for the war effort. But, in the year 2000 an English bookseller stumbled across a surviving copy of the original and displayed it in his shop, and the interest it stirred spread to a global phenomenon. In a video about the poster’s history, a narrator says, “Like a voice out of history, it offers a very simple, warm-hearted message to inspire confidence in others during difficult times.”[1]

Friends, I do not have to tell you that these are difficult times, and like that poster, I want to offer you a very simple, warm-hearted message to inspire you to keep calm and carry on. The Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage on Friday was a loud announcement, as though from a megaphone, that the world and the nation in which we live have greatly changed. If you haven’t been paying attention, or if you have been ignoring it, those options are no longer available to you. A lot has changed over the last few days, but some things remain unchanged, and one of those is the need for God’s people to keep calm and carry on.

Today, I want to address the situation from God’s Word, but more importantly how we as Christians should respond to it. As we address the situation, we begin by stating that …

I. God defines what marriage is.

We have heard it said in recent days that the courts are going to define, or re-define, the institution of marriage. This is a misconception. Neither marriage nor the definition of it is theirs to determine. God is the one who instituted marriage. Therefore, He is the one who gets to define what it is. Quoting from Genesis 2 on the creation of humanity and the institution of marriage, Jesus Christ said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matt 19:4-9).

Why did God create marriage in this way? Most basically, on a strictly natural level, there was an issue of compatibility. God had given Adam a command to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it. But Adam soon discovered that it was impossible for him to carry out this plan alone. As he surveyed every living creature on the earth, he discovered that there was not a helper suitable for him – not one with whom he could be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. And so God created for Him a partner (a “helper”), a woman, with whom he could carry out his mandate.

But God was also providing something else for Adam. The Lord God had said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). It was the first thing that Lord ever declared to be “not good.” Man was made in God’s image, and part of the image of God is the perfect harmony that God had in Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. For eternity past, when God was all that existed, He was not alone. The Father had ever enjoyed the fellowship of the Son and the Spirit, the Son of the Father and Spirit, and the Spirit of the Father and Son. No individual person of the Triune Godhead was more important than the other, but each had a unique part to play in creating, sustaining, ruling over and redeeming the world. For Adam to enjoy this intimacy of union and fellowship, he required an equal and compatible helper. And so God created a woman for him, distinct from him, but of the same nature as him, of equal worth with him, but with a different role than him in creation. Genesis 1:27 says, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” And so in marriage, we have this picture of the divine image. We see a glimpse of who God is – one Deity who exists in three distinct persons. In marriage, God said He would take the two and make them to be “one flesh.”

As we read the Bible further, we discover that marriage was also intended to serve another purpose. It is picture of the special love that God has for His own people. In Ephesians 5, the Apostle Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, gives us the most practical guidance on marriage in the New Testament. He declares that husbands are to love their wives “as Christ loved the church,” and “as their own bodies.” He says also that that wives are to be subject to their husbands, as to the Lord, and as the Church is to Christ (Eph 5:22-31). And yet, as he concludes this instruction on marriage, Paul says, “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (5:32). The book of Revelation describes the church as the bride of Christ and looks toward the day of the marriage supper of the Lamb, when the church, the Bride, will be joined together forever with the Bridegroom, Jesus (Rev 19:7-9). In marriage, we see a picture of how the Lord Jesus lovingly, sacrificially leads His church, and how the church joyfully follows His leadership and submits to His Lordship. “Nevertheless,” Paul says, “each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband” (Eph 5:33). As a husband and wife faithfully love, lead, and follow, they show forth the Gospel visibly. 

So, from the Old and New Testament alike, we have this biblical definition of marriage as a covenant bond between one man and one woman for the duration of their physical lives, as a representation of the nature of God and His covenant love for His people. The institution of marriage, as defined in this way, was part of the world that God created initially, and over which He declared to be “very good” (Gen 1:31). All was right in the world; sin had not touched one element of the earth when God created marriage and defined it in this way. But all did not stay well for long. In Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, the entire human race was plunged into sin and the whole earth was subjected to its curse. Every aspect of society became twisted and corrupted because of sin.
Friends, we need to keep in mind that the corruption of a biblical definition of marriage did not begin on Friday or in the last decade. It began within a short walk of the garden of Eden. After Adam and Eve sinned, God pronounced that sin would produce division in marriage. To Eve, He said, “your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Gen 3:16). The Hebrew text here indicates that her desire for her husband will not be one of pleasure or intimacy, but a desire to rule over her husband and to master him. The exact same Hebrew phrases are used here as in Genesis 4 where God speaks to Cain before he killed Abel. He said to Cain, “Sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” What sin wanted to do to Cain is what God said Eve would want to do to Adam. And what Cain must do to sin is what Adam would do to Eve. No longer would marriage be characterized by that loving relationship of a man lovingly shepherding his joyful helpmate, but rather it would become a battle of competing wills. Sin had defiled marriage.

Soon enough, sin would distort marriage even further. In Genesis 4, soon after we read of Cain and Abel, we read of one of Cain’s descendants named Lamech. And the Bible says of him, “Lamech took to himself two wives.” People often point to the cases of polygamy in the Bible as some kind of evidence that God does not frown on “non-traditional marriages.” Friends, to the contrary, though there are many cases of polygamy in Scripture, in no case did the Lord command it, and in no case did the Lord unconditionally bless it. In nearly every case, we see suffering and hardship flow out of these ungodly unions precisely because humanity rejected God’s design.

From polygamy, we begin to read about adultery and divorce. God’s design for marriage had been marred like a masterpiece whose beauty has been vandalized by graffiti. Marriage has been being distorted, defiled, and desecrated from the fall in countless ways. And I submit to you that one of the reasons that the culture turns a deaf ear to our rhetoric about God’s intention for marriage is that, decades ago, the church itself turned a deaf ear to God’s intention for marriage. One man and one woman is only part of God’s definition for marriage. “For life” is the other part. And the church’s soft stance on divorce and other marital sins paved the way for the culture’s soft stance on marriage in general. We see it expressed in rampant cases of cohabitation and the shifting cultural tide on same-sex marriage. But we may not have yet seen the end of it. The very same arguments on which the court based their decision could be used to advance the cause of incestuous marriage, polygamous marriage, paedophilial marriage, or even marriage between humans and non-humans. At some point, a line will have to be drawn, or all lines will have to be erased. But what can never be erased is the definition that God Almighty has declared for marriage from the beginning. It is one man and one woman united together in a lifelong covenant before Him, depicting His own nature and the unconditional love that He has for His people.

Not only does God define what marriage is, …

II. God’s Word has declared what sin is.

Contrary to what the culture around us believes, sin is not decided upon by a vote of the people or the ruling of a court. It is declared in the Word of God. God’s own holiness, righteous, and justice is the standard for human thought, conduct, and speech. His Word declares His nature to us, and whatever is contrary to His nature is sin. The Bible says that all of us are sinners who fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). We are sinners by nature, in that we were born with a will bent toward rebellion and disobedience. That is a product of the fall that we inherited from Adam. We are also sinners by choice, in that we yield to that sinful nature and willfully commit acts of disobedience against God. When the church of Jesus Christ declares that people are sinners, we do not exempt or exclude ourselves, nor do we make a judgment about any individual’s particular sinful actions. It is not accusatory, it is explanatory. We aren’t called sinners because we sin, but we sin because we are sinners.

Now, when we read the Bible honestly, we will come to a point at which we find ourselves condemned because of some sin that we have committed. It is true for all of us. Let’s take an easy one for example. The Bible says in Exodus 23:1, “You shall not bear a false report.” Let me paraphrase it: “Don’t tell lies.” I imagine that every single one of us at some point or another has told a lie. Now, when we come to that indictment, we have several options of response. (1) We can try to justify why we lied, as if that makes it better; (2) We can try to explain away what the Bible says and offer up an interpretation that makes what we have done somehow different from what was forbidden; (3) We can choose to ignore, reject, or deny what the Bible plainly says; or (4) We can confess that we have lied, and in so doing we have sinned against God, and we can turn to Him in repentance for forgiveness of our sin. The fourth of these is the only appropriate response, but it does not often happen that way. Typically, we choose one of the other options.

Friends, the Bible is clear that homosexual acts are sin. It is clear in the Old and New Testaments alike. I will give you one representative text from each as examples. In Leviticus 18:22, the Law of God declares, “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.” In Romans 1:26-27, we read, “God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.” There are a host of other passages, but these suffice to demonstrate that God’s Word clearly declares homosexual acts to be sinful. Some will say, “But Jesus never spoke against homosexuality!” Friends, that simply is not true. In declaring that God’s intention for marriage was for a man and a woman to be united for life, Jesus was clearly saying that God has no other plan for humanity than this!

Now, the question arises in our day, “Why do Christians treat homosexuality as a greater sin than all others?” It is a fair question, and one that we must deal with, because it is disingenuous and hypocritical for us to judge homosexuality any harsher than we judge any other sin. I have often said that if you hate someone else’s sin worse than you hate your own sin, you have a fundamental disconnect in your spiritual maturity. We need to be clear that homosexuality is not a “worse” sin than any other.

We also need to be clear that homosexuality is a piece of a larger issue of sexual immorality in general. Any sexual expression outside of the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman is sin, and that includes homosexuality, but also fornication, adultery, prostitution, pornography, incest, polygamy, and so on. And sexual sin, though not categorically “worse” than other sins, is categorically different than many other kinds of sin. In 1 Corinthians 6:18, Paul says, “Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man (and the Greek word, porneia, indicates “sexually immoral”) sins against his own body.” It is a defiling of the already corrupted image of God within us, and a distortion of the beautiful imagery which God intended marriage and sexuality to demonstrate. That is why, in the same passage (1 Cor 6:18), we are admonished to flee all forms of sexual immorality, for “the body is not for [sexual] immorality, but for the Lord” (1 Cor 6:13).

Now, here is where some in our day will say that the church is trying to force an outmoded ethic of sexuality upon people and that it is destructive and disastrous to do so. People will say that our sexual ethic is driving young people who struggle with same-sex attractions to kill themselves. I would respond by saying that our sexual ethic is neither destructive or disastrous. Rather, a culture which insists that people define and identify themselves by their sexual desires and preferences is what is destroying people. People must seek their identity from the God who made them in His image, not from their own physical urges. God’s Word does not declare what is sin in order to destroy us, but to rescue us from the destruction of all manner of sin, including sexual sin.

We must also be clear in our day to say that temptation is not the same thing as sin. Hear me carefully here. It is not a sin to be tempted with same-sex attraction. What is a sin is to yield to that temptation and enter into homosexual lust or acts. We all face temptations, and the Bible says that “no temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:13). We do not have the privilege of choosing our temptations. People will say, “Well, God made them with this desire, so what is wrong with indulging that desire?” Friends, we are all born with certain dispositions, but this is not of God’s design. It is of sin’s corrupting effect. Because of sin’s corruption, some are born with certain desires, or certain dispositions which lead to certain desires, and others are born with different desires and dispositions. What is tempting to one person will not necessarily be tempting to another. You may be strongly tempted with fits of rage, or intoxication, or dishonesty, while another may be tempted strongly with same-sex attractions. But though there are different forms of temptation, temptation itself is the same for all men and women, and God is the same toward all, and will provide a way of resistance and escape for those who seek it in Him. We do not get to choose our temptations, but we do choose which ones we will resist and which ones we will indulge, and that is something that we need to be crystal clear about.

If you or someone you know struggles with same-sex temptations, condemnation is not what is needed. Compassion is what is needed, because we know the One who is able to deliver us from such temptations as are common to all men. By His death and resurrection, Jesus has conquered sin, and offers His victory to all who come to Him by repentance and saving faith. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, the Bible says, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” When we read that, we may wonder if any of us, not just homosexuals, have any hope at all. We all likely find ourselves condemned by something in that list. But the hope comes in the next verse, as the Bible says, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of God.” Friends, of all people in the world, Christians ought to be the most compassionate toward homosexuals and every other variety of sinners, because such were some of us before we encountered the life changing grace of God in Jesus Christ. We know this Savior who took our sins upon Himself and bore their penalty and defeated it by His unquenchable life. It is that past tense word “were” in that phrase, “such were some of you,” that gives any of us hope. As people who were such as these, but who have been set free by Jesus, we need to extend that same compassionate hope to others whom we know who still are.

So, in addressing this issue, we are brought to the final point. Having set forth two ideas from Scripture, namely, that God defines what marriage is, and God’s Word has declared what sin is, we must now say that…

III. God’s people must demonstrate a proper response to our culture.

How should we, as Bible-believing, evangelical Christians respond to the decision of the Supreme Court, to our hyper-sexualized culture, to our neighbor, our friend, our loved one, or that perfect stranger who is struggling with same-sex attraction or actively engaged in homosexual activity?

A. We must love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves.

Jesus said that there is no greater commandment than these two. And, in spite of all that has changed, the Great Commandment has not changed. As we love the Lord our God with our entire being, we must be unswervingly and uncompromisingly committed to the truthfulness and authority of His word. And as we love our neighbor selflessly, we must be willing to treat them with kindness and dignity, as friends and not enemies, and as people whom God has created in His image and people for whom Christ died. It is never easy to love someone who is different than you are, but we already have a lot of practice at it. I imagine that among your family members, your circle of friends, and even your fellow church members, there are many with whom you have significant disagreements over a variety of issues. But you know that agreement is not necessary for love. You do not have to condone something that you are convinced is wrong to love someone. And an entire segment of our population is convinced that Christians hate them. The time has come for us to show them that we do not hate them, but we love them. We were not very lovable when Christ extended His love to us. We do not have to wait for others to become lovable to us for them to be loved by us. Be a friend, be a faithful family member, be a generous neighbor to all people, and do not exclude homosexuals. Make sure they know that your disagreement over sexuality and marriage is not a condition for your willingness to love and befriend them. Even if they make it a condition on their end, we must demonstrate what Romans 12:18 says: “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”

B. We must be Spirit-empowered witnesses for Jesus Christ among all men.

Not only did Jesus give us two great commandments, He also gave us a great commission to be His witnesses in the power of the Holy Spirit to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). And in spite of all that has changed, the Great Commission has not changed. We must remember that we are not trying to win a war over the issue of marriage and sexuality, but to win a war for men’s souls and to rescue them from perishing. Homosexuals are not excluded from the great commission. Like all who are engaged in unrepentant sin, we must point them to the One who has delivered us from bondage to all manner of sin, including sexual brokenness and marital deviance. Such were some of you. And you have a story to tell about how Jesus set you free. The most loving thing you can do is to share that story with others who are still lost in sin. You may have to earn the right to share it in the context of your relationship with them, but you must not be deterred from the mission, or distracted by other issues. At the end of the day, if we convince someone to come around to our way of thinking about marriage and sex, but do not persuade them to follow Christ, they are still lost. We must lovingly introduce them to Jesus by our words and deeds, and let Him convince them, convict them, and convert them. He did it for us, so we know He can do it for them.

C. The Church must be a safety net for a culture falling over the cliff of brokenness.

Let’s get one thing clear – the church is not a museum for perfect people. It is a hospital for broken people, and sooner or later, we pray, those who are lost in sin will come to realize how badly their sin has broken them. When they do, where will they turn? They will only turn to the church if they know that we can be a safety net for them. The decision that is being celebrated across America today will in time demonstrate its own folly. The joy and happiness that multitudes think they will have will evaporate and leave them in despair. Sin only satisfies for a season. When that season ends, will they know that broken people are welcome in the church of Jesus Christ? Will they know that you and I can relate to their brokenness because we ourselves have taken the plunge off of that cliff, and we have found ourselves resting in the strong arms of Jesus who is mighty to save? I have often said that we as a church must have such a reputation in this city that, when the day comes that someone awakens with questions about God plaguing their heart and mind, they will know for certain that this is a place they can come for answers. That is not something that a collective “WE” can do. It is something that every individual among us must do.

D. We must rethink “Church” as being increasingly counter-cultural.

It is being said of Christians today that we are living on the wrong side of history. Friends, for the better part of the church’s existence we’ve been on the wrong side of history. It has only been in the short history of the United States of America that we have been culture-definers. And now the tide has turned, and we must be faithful to Christ as we swim against the tide. Our convictions and our confessions of faith will be increasingly unpopular, and that is exactly why we have them. We will not be tossed about by the waves of cultural opinion or sink in the shifting sands of acceptable norms. Over the last several months, Immanuel Baptist Church has adopted new policies, we have amended existing ones, and we have made our positions and our convictions as clear as we can make them on this and many other issues. Now comes the hard part of carrying out those convictions. We can expect challenges to come our way. There may be “test cases,” lawsuits, threats, strong-arming, accusations and criticisms. We may have to rethink everything that our American heritage has taught us about allegiance to “God and country.” At the end of the day we will have to be clear that our highest pledge of allegiance is sworn to Jesus Christ and His unshakable kingdom. We have yet to see if we can retain tax-exempt status, or preach the Bible faithfully without being accused of hate-crimes. But we can already see that very soon in America, the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord will bear for us the full weight that it has borne upon our brothers and sisters around the world throughout history. It is a counter-cultural, radical confession, and we must stand unmoved on it.

E. We must pray and we must prepare! We must pray for our sister churches, pray for pastors, pray for Christian witnesses, pray for Christian schools, Christians in the government, and Christian business owners. Already we are seeing the beginnings of the turmoil. We have no assurances that it will get better. In a dissenting opinion on the Supreme Court ruling, Justice Roberts said, “Unfortunately, people of faith can take no comfort in the treatment they receive from the majority today.” A few weeks ago, when asked how the decision would affect religious liberty for Christian colleges, the solicitor general of the United States said candidly, “It is going to be an issue.” We can all consider that a fair warning. So, as we pray for our brothers and sisters to stand strong against the current, we must also prepare for the possibility that civil disobedience may be necessary. Civil disobedience is not insurrection or a taking up of arms. It is a quiet resolve to remain faithful to God, come what may. It is what we saw in the earliest church, when Christians were threatened to keep quiet about Jesus or else, and they responded, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20); and “We must obey God rather than men” (5:29). We will continue to live in submission to proper governing authorities, as the Bible commands us to, and we will remember that the governing authorities who were in power when those commands were written were not friendly to the Church. But submission does not mean going along with in order to avoid consequences. It means being willing to accept the consequences for the sake of our consciences before God. Let me say this clearly: it is too soon to tell if civil disobedience will be necessary. But it is never too soon to prepare ourselves for the possibility, and it is always the right time to pray. Pray and prepare.

F. Finally, we must model a biblical ethic of marriage and sexuality. As I said earlier, the church’s sloppy and soft stand on issues like divorce have opened these floodgates. If we want the world to take us seriously when we say “one man and one woman,” we need to prove that we are faithful to the rest of it too: “for life.” We must fight for our marriages when hard times come, and hard times come to every marriage. We must encourage our brothers and sisters to hang in there and not walk away or throw away their marriages. We must celebrate and champion the life of single celibacy and marital endurance. We must be as serious and vocal about every other sexual and marital sin as we are about same-sex marriage, and all the more faithful to live out the biblical ethics of marriage, sexuality and family life. The world will never abide God’s standard for marriage and sexuality until or unless the church does. Remember, your marriage is showing your family, your friends, your neighbors and coworkers something about God, the Gospel, and the love of Jesus Christ. Make sure they see the right picture.

In closing, let me say that the Supreme Court is often called “the highest court in the land.” That is not quite true. As Southern Baptist Seminary President Al Mohler wrote on Friday,

The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the land, and its decisions cannot be appealed to a higher court of law. But the Supreme Court, like every human institution and individual, will eventually face two higher courts. The first is the court of history, which will render a judgment that I believe will embarrass this court and reveal its dangerous trajectory. The precedents and arguments set forth in this decision cannot be limited to the right of same-sex couples to marry. If individual autonomy and equal protection mean that same-sex couples cannot be denied what is now defined as a fundamental right of marriage, then others will arrive to make the same argument. This Court will find itself in a trap of its own making, and one that will bring great harm to this nation and its families. The second court we all must face is the court of divine judgment. For centuries, marriage ceremonies in the English-speaking world have included the admonition that what God has put together, no human being — or human court — should tear asunder. That is exactly what the Supreme Court of the United States has now done.

Friends, when all is said and done, we rest on two pillars: our God is sovereign over all the affairs of this fallen world, and His word is true and authoritative. No vote and no court can change that. Therefore we will not panic, we will not declare that the sky is falling. We will not retreat to a holy huddle, bar the doors, and cower in fear. What will we do? We will be Christians. And we will be confident, courageous, and compassionate. In other words, we will keep calm and carry on. 


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